Sunday, March 30, 2008

Maurice's house

Maurice's house in Auckland, in the middle of building works. He is hobbling about with a sprained foot at the moent.

Friday, March 28, 2008

This week

Last weekend we were supposed to be attending the opening of the new Buddha Grove at Albany Prison, but the governor cancelled at only a few days' notice on the feeble grounds that the plinth for the Buddha Rupa wasn't ready. As we had booked the hotel and the ferry and had arranged to stop off at a meeting of the Bahraini community being held in Portsmouth, we decided to go ahead. After a useful discussion with the Bahrainis including several old friends, we crossed on the 13.00 ferry and checked in at the elaborately 19th century Villa Rothsay, which had been used by King Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales during his visits to the island. He was Duke of Rothsay so the house was named after him.

In the afternoon we visited Osborne [], Queen Victoria's pad on the island where she enjoyed playing the housewife, free of any public commitments.

Monday we did Carisbrooke Castle [] where Charles 1 was imprisoned for 14 months before being taken to London for his trial and execution. Then Quarr Abbey [] where as it happened we attended the first half of vespers. Bhante had stayed there 20 years ago when there were 30 monks compared with only nine there for the service. Probably not so many people have vocations nowadays, and they may have some difficulty keeping the place up with dwindling numbers in the next few years, though the grounds and buildings seemed in good condition. Then back on the 18.00 ferry.

Tuesday I had a morning meeting at the House with some 40 Bahrainis, and fielded a Question on Darfur.

Wednesday, fielded a Question by Raymond Hylton calling for an independent review of the decision to detain asylum seekers, then spoke to an amendment on the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill on facilities for the treatment of young people with a dependency on or a propensity to misuse alcohol. The Government aren't proposing to allow any additional resources for the new treatment orders, once again demonstrating that they don't take alcohol seriously.

Thursday I fielded a Question on Zimbabwe, and spoke on two Orders dealing with the early release of foreign national prisoners who are being removed or deported. On the TV news this evening it was announced that the previous early release scheme had allowed a couple of convicted terrorists to be released early, and Jack Straw had said he was going to see that this didn't happen again. As in the days of Henry VIII with his Statute of Proclamations, it seems that laws are now being made by decree, except that Mr Straw is mow the monarch.

Today I have been trying to clear backlogs of paperwork, though sidetracked by a case reported by the Kent Police to which Nick Tolson of Churchwatch drew my attention:

Arrests made at Canterbury Cathedral
Protesters attempt to disrupt service

Police arrested two men at Canterbury Cathedral on Sunday 23 March after they attempted to protest during the Archbishop of Canterbury's Easter Sunday service.

Their protests centred around the Archbishop's recent comments on Sharia law.

Kyle Spotswood, 26, of Dagenham Road, Sheffield and Sidney Cordle, 52, of Knowle Lane, Sheffield, were later charged with a disturbance in church under the 1860 Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act. The offence under the Act carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.

They have been bailed on condition they do not come into Kent except for their appearance at Canterbury Magistrates Court on 7 April.

Posted on: Updated Monday 24 March

Having attempted twice to repeal S 2 of the 1860 Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act, and spent a year in the Select Committe on Religious Offences [
ldrelof/95/9501.htm], I have more than a passing interest in this case, and spent a couple of hours making telephone calls to find out whey the police (or the Crowm Prosecution Servive?) didn't think to use S 4A or S 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. It appears that the police didn't consult the CPS, as perhaps they would have needed to with such a small maximum penalty. But if they were under the impression that the offence carried a two year prison sentence, they certainly ought to have done so. If one of the objects is to deprive the protesters of the oxygen of publicity, its certainly a mistake to prosecute under the ECJA, because the use of this archaic legislation is bound to attract extra media attention.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

End of Mar's visit

She is off to the refugee camps in Thailand for Burmese fleeing the atrocious SPDC regime, then back to Canberra. She's been a lovely guest and we will miss her.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Week in Westminster

Last Friday Phil Clarke came to see me about the research we have been conducting for several years on the statistical discrepancies in the various estimates of the number of refugees from Rwanda in the DRC at the end of 1996.. The Ministry of Defence had agreed to make available some large high resolution photographs taken from overflights of eastern Zaire (as it was then) by an RAF Canberra at the end of November 1996. More of this anon.

Monday I asked a supplementary on Lord Skelmersdales question on National Insurance numbers, which give a rough picture of the numbers entering the workforce. Only 3% of these people claim outof work benefits within six months, indication that the large majority of them are making a productive contribution to the economy.

Tuesday, to the West Ham football ground to speak at a conference of Traveller teachers in the morning, then back to Westminster for Roger Roberts' question on gay asylum seekers from Iran. Under pressure, the Government have agreed to give Mehdi Kazemi a new hearing. The Minister who was answering, Alan West, wasn't very well briefed, we thought.

Today I had a question on the situation in Tibet, and spoke later in Norman Fowler's debate on Iranian refugees and displaced people - four and a half million of them, who lost their homes because of the egregious folly of the invasion five years ago today.

Now we have Good Friday and Easter Monday off,with a dreadful weather forecast for the Easter weekend.

TLRU meeting March 7

Meeting of the Traveller Law Research Unit Adisory Group meeting, with Elena Tsetsekou, Administrator, Migration and Roma Department, Social Cohesion Directorate, Council of Europe. The CoE has worked on an awareness campaign, but although most member states have official policies on equality, the majority of populations are slow to understand the need. Cases heard at the European Court of Human Rights have made a bigger difference than national policies.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Orpington Circle Inauguration Dinner

Yesterday evening, as guests of Paul Hunt, Chairman of the National Liberal Club, at a dinner to launch the Orpington Circle, an organisation of Club members to support Liberal Democrat candidates at by-elections. First picture is Gill Pratt (nee Cheesbrough) who was my right hand in the Commons from 1964 to 1966. She married and moved to Huddersfield and I hadn't seen her for over 40 years. Second picture is of Chris Maines, LibDem candidate for Orpington 5 times, who only missed by 269 votes in 2001; and on my right, David McBride, the present candidate.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


The busier I am, the later my posts, but here's a belated update on March so far.

Monday March 3 presented the awards to Gypsy and Traveller children winners of the ELAMP distance learning awards, in the Moses Room of the House of Lords. Its a great scheme for GRT children who travel in the summer to receive assignments and send in their coursework using laptops.

Then my Question on the UNICEF report on The State of the World's Children 2008, with particular reference to the lack of progress in reducing infant and maternal mortality in West Africa.

At 16.00, weekly meeting of the Select Committee considering the value for money we get from our subscriptions to international organisations concerned with communicable diseases, mainly B, malaria and HIV/AIDS. So fare we have been considering evidence from medical and academic bodies.

At 18.15, meeting with (Baroness) Kay Andrews to discuss my amendment to the Criminal Justice & Immigration Bill abolishing blasphemy and the remaining statutory religious offences, dealt with by the Law Commission in 1985 and covered by my Bills of 1995 and 2002, followed by the Select Committee on Religious Offences which reported in 2003. The Government had tabled their owm amendment falling a bit short of mine, in that they retained a couple of obsolete Acts I wanted to repeal. The main one was the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860, which provides that

"riotous, violent, or indecent behaviour in England or Ireland in any cathedral church, parish or district church or chapel of the Church of England, or in any chapel of any religious denomination, or in England in any places of religious worship duly certified under the provisions of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, whether during the celebration of divine service or at any other time, or in any churchyard or burial ground, or who shall molest, let, disturb, vex, or trouble, or by any other unlawful means disquiet or misuse any preacher duly authorized to preach therein, or any clergyman in holy orders ministering or celebrating any sacrament, or any divine service, rite, or office, in any cathedral, church, or chapel, or in any churchyard or burial ground, shall, on conviction thereof before two justices of the peace, be liable to a penalty of not more than [F4 level 1 on the standard scale]for every such offence, or may, if the justices before whom he shall be convicted think fit, instead of being subjected to any pecuniary penalty, be committed to prison for any time not exceeding two months".

My argument is that the charge is rarely used, and that conduct of the kind described can be dealt with by the secular laws dealing with public order or harassment. Kay wouldn't have been in a position to make a concession even if she had agreed with me, because Ministers in the Lords are kept on a short leash by their Departments

Tuesday, met TH< who was unfairly sacked by the UNHCR and offered inadequate compensation by the UN Appeals Tribunal many years later. Lord Desai and I are advising him on further steps to get a fair deal.

Then a meeting with Akin Birdal, Turkey's most prominent human rights activists, who has been imprisoned, shot by attempted assassins, but still keeps going.

Wednesday, the debate on the floor of the House on the religious offences amendments. Having got three quarters of a loaf,I will have a go at getting the remaining slices at the Report Stage. In the dinner hour, took part in a debate on the National Audit Office report on risks to overseas territories. I spoke about tax avoidance, the shabby treatment of the Chagos Islanders who were expelled from their lands, and the reversal of moves towards self-government on Ascension Island. All in six minutes. The dinner hour debates are timed, and the more speakers there are, the shorter each speaker has to be.

Thursday, a meeting with Mark Canning, our Ambassador to Burma. At Question time, joined in Lindsay Northover's question on gender inequality, and in Lord de Mauley's, on alcohol and young people.

Yesterday, Monday March 10, lunch and discussion with Abbas al-Bayati, Iraqi MP and Turcoman leader who is on the Committee looking at constitutional change. The Turcomans are concerned among other matters with the status of Kirkuk. Because all decisions have to be unanimous, no progress is being made.

Later, joined in Baroness Rawlings' Question onclimate change and South West Africa, then in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, moved amendments deleting Part 12, dealing with 'Special Immigration Status'. The Government want to create a limbo for people they say are disqualified from refugee status but can't be deported for human rights reasons. The UNHCR say the Government are wrongly interpreting the make these ew people destitute for as long as they remain in the UK.

This special status is being created because the convictions of the hijackers who brought a plane load of asylum seekers here from Afghanistan in 2000 were quahed by the Court of Appeal,and they would have had to grant the hijackers 6 months renewable leave to remain without these provisions. We say that nobody was killed or injured by the hijackers, but 100 people were delivered from torture or execution by the Taliban, who ruled the country at the time.

Today, spent the morning and spoke at the National Association of Traveller Teachers/ Advisory Council on theEducation of Romanies and Travellers conference in West Ham. Returned to Westminster in time to join in a Question on the threatened deportation of an Iranian homosexual,Mehdi Kazemi. I asked whether,in view of the persecution of gay and lesbian people in Iran, they would promote an EU wide moratorium on the deportation of gay and lesbian people to Iran.

Later, sat in on Climate Change Bill and spoke on two amendments.

Sunday, March 02, 2008